After failing to make the playoffs for the first time in 14 years the previous season, the New York Yankees christened the new Yankee Stadium by capturing the A.L. East title in their second year under manager Joe Girardi in 2009. Having obtained the services of slugging first baseman Mark Teixeira and pitchers C.C. Sabathia and A.J. Burnett through free agency during the offseason, the Yankees finished the campaign with baseball’s best record – a mark of 103-59 that placed them eight games ahead of second-place Boston in the division.
Key to New York’s successful title-run was the performance of the team’s pitching staff. After finishing eighth in the American League in team ERA the previous year, Yankee pitchers compiled the third-lowest mark in the junior circuit in 2009 (4.26). C.C. Sabathia led the league with 19 victories, and he also placed among the leaders with a 3.37 ERA, 197 strikeouts, and 230 innings pitched, en route to earning a fourth-place finish in the Cy Young voting. Although inconsistent at times, A.J. Burnett finished 13-9 and placed second to Sabathia on the team with 195 strikeouts and 207 innings pitched. Andy Pettitte finished second on the club with 14 victories. Meanwhile, Mariano Rivera continued to perform brilliantly at age 39, saving 44 games and compiling a 1.76 ERA.
In spite of the improved performance of their pitching staff, the Yankees’ greatest strength remained their powerful offense. New York led the American League with 915 runs scored, 244 home runs, a .362 team on-base percentage, and a .478 team slugging percentage. The Yankees also placed second in the circuit with a team batting average of .283. New York’s lineup had nary an easy out. Johnny Damon hit 24 home runs, knocked in 82 runs, scored 107 others, and batted .282. Jorge Posada hit 22 homers, drove in 81 runs, and batted .285. Hideki Matsui hit 28 home runs and knocked in 90 runs. Nick Swisher hit 29 homers and drove in 82 runs. Robinson Cano hit 25 home runs, knocked in 85 runs, scored 103 others, and finished near the top of the league rankings with a .320 batting average. Despite missing more than a month of the season with an injured hip, Alex Rodriguez hit 30 homers and drove in 100 runs. Derek Jeter hit 18 homers, stole 30 bases, and finished among the league leaders with 107 runs scored, 212 hits, and a .334 batting average, en route to earning a third-place finish in the A.L. MVP voting. Finishing just ahead of Jeter in the balloting, in second place, was Mark Teixeira, who scored 103 runs, batted .292, and led the league with 39 home runs, 122 runs batted in, and 344 total bases.
Facing New York in the first round of the playoffs were the Minnesota Twins, who captured the A.L. Central title by defeating the Detroit Tigers by a score of 6-5 in a one-game playoff. The victory over Detroit moved the Twins one game ahead of the Tigers in the final standings, giving them a regular-season record of 87-76. Minnesota posted offensive numbers during the campaign that paled by comparison to the ones New York compiled over the course of the season. The Twins scored 98 fewer runs than the Yankees (817), hit 72 fewer home runs (172), and posted a significantly lower team batting average (.274), on-base percentage (.345), and slugging percentage (.429). Unlike New York’s batting order, Minnesota’s lineup presented opposing pitchers with just a handful of true offensive threats. Michael Cuddyer drove in 94 runs, scored 93 others, and led the team with 32 home runs. Jason Kubel batted .300, hit 28 homers, and led the club with 103 runs batted in. Justin Morneau hit
30 home runs and knocked in 100 runs. Denard Span batted .311 and led the team with 97 runs scored and 23 stolen bases. Still, the Twins had the American League’s best player in Joe Mauer, who won A.L. MVP honors by hitting 28 home runs, knocking in 96 runs, scoring 94 others, and topping the circuit with a .365 batting average, a .444 on-base percentage, and a .587 slugging percentage.
The Yankees not only had a superior lineup to that of the Twins, but they also had a more formidable pitching staff. The Twins’ team ERA of 4.50 placed them just 11th in the American League, and they lacked a true staff ace. Scott Baker led Minnesota with 15 victories, but he posted a decidedly mediocre 4.37 ERA. No one else on the team won more than 11 games. However, the Twins did have one of the game’s best closers in Joe Nathan, who finished the year with 47 saves and a 2.10 ERA.
Heading into their ALDS confrontation with the Yankees, the biggest question preying on the minds of the Twins had to be whether or not they would be in a position to hand the ball off to Nathan in a late-game save situation.
Minnesota grabbed an early 2-0 lead over New York in the first postseason game played at the new Yankee Stadium, scoring twice against C.C. Sabathia in the top of the third inning. However, the Yankees tied the score in the bottom of the frame on a two-run homer by Derek Jeter off Brian Duensing. New York then took control of the contest by scoring four more times in the next two innings, with the big hits being an RBI double by Nick Swisher, an RBI single by Alex Rodriguez, and a two-run homer by Hideki Matsui. Meanwhile, Sabathia settled down on the mound for New York, striking out eight and limiting the Twins to two runs in his 6 2/3 innings of work, before turning the ball over to the Yankee bullpen. A-Rod drove in another run in the seventh inning for the Yankees, making the final score of Game One 7-2.
The second contest turned out to be far more competitive, with the Twins holding a 3-1 lead heading into the bottom of the ninth inning. Mark Teixeira led off the frame with a single off Joe Nathan, before Alex Rodriguez stroked a dramatic game-tying two-run home run into the Yankee bullpen in right-centerfield. The game subsequently headed into extra innings, with each team mounting a serious threat that ultimately came up a bit short, before Mark Teixeira ended the affair in the bottom of the 11th with a leadoff homer against Jose Mijares. The 4-3 victory gave the Yankees a commanding 2-0 series lead, with the next two games scheduled to be played in Minnesota.
Ex-Yankee Carl Pavano kept his former team off the scoreboard for the first six innings of Game Three, as the Twins grabbed a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the sixth on an RBI single by Joe Mauer off Andy Pettitte. New York finally reached Pavano for two runs in the top of the seventh inning on a pair of solo home runs by Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada. The Yankees increased their lead to 4-1 in the top of the ninth inning on RBI singles by Posada and Robinson Cano. Meanwhile, New York’s bullpen supported Pettitte with 2 2/3 innings of scoreless relief, to give the Yankees their first series win in postseason play in five years. After frequently hearing the taunts of Yankee fans for his lack of production in prior playoff series (his RBI single in Game One broke an 0-for-29 postseason skid with runners in scoring position that dated back to the 2004 ALCS), Alex Rodriguez starred throughout the series for New York. A-Rod batted .455, with two home runs and six runs batted in.